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Interview: director Anca Miruna Lazarescu

In an exclusive interview, Anca Miruna talks about her childhood, what does it mean to be a film director and her debut in feature film.

Anca Miruna Lazarescu – a name not many of you may know, however she’s the director of the most awarded Romanian short film: “Silent River”, which took home more than 80 national and international distinctions. After more than six years since her short, Anca Miruna Lazarescu makes her grand debut in feature film with the tragic-comedy “The Trip we took with Dad” – a feature depicting brotherhood in the most authentic way, in a world where “being happy” was a luxury not many afforded.
Set in 1968, the film follows Emil and Mihai, two brothers who embark on a dangerous trip to Dresda, where their dad could receive surgical intervention for his illness. On their way, they are caught by the Soviet tanks, which don’t seem to share the family’s same plans.
“The trip we took with Dad” is an ambitious production, which can be considered one of the best debut Romanian film industry has seen in recent years. Unlike many other local filmmakers, Anca Miruna Lazarescu avouches the power of music in a motion picture, which she blends in her story so naturally, offering the viewer an emotional rollercoaster. A film which can make you laugh and cry in the same time, “The trip we took with dad” achieves its main purpose – making the public understand its history better, through a film based on real life events. From a personal point of view, I think “The trip we took with dad” it’s a film not to be missed, a film that brought tears to my eyes, and nonetheless, a film through which Anca Miruna convinced me to follow her work from now on with a lot of interest. And if you haven’t marched alongside Romanians these days in the Victory Square, this film will definitely bring to your mind why you should.

1. Who is Anca Miruna Lazarescu?
Anca Miruna Lazarescu was born in Romania, in March 1979 and emigrated to Germania in 1990 – back then I was only eleven years old. I remember the first few years all I did was trying to fit in. I even tried to write my name differently and get rid of my Romanian accent. I realized in high school and mostly during my university years, I carry a strong Romanian identity within me – all of my college stories were about Romania and my time spent there.

2. I know you were passionate about gymnastics when you were a kid, however you did not follow that path. How did film make its way into your life?
I was an ambitious gymnast indeed, I even had a girder at home and used to practice every day. However, my mom is a doctor and it was somehow clear to my family that I would become a doctor as well. But I was never interested. I always liked stories: I got a job at 15 years old at a local German newspaper. At 18 I started presenting news on the radio, a job that lead me to television, where I also worked for a long time and subsequently, I enrolled the Film & TV University in Munich. I don’t think I could have chosen a different path. I remember when I was four and I had a big drawer inside my room. I always dreamt I bend it down and make a scene out of it. My friends were so used to see me dance or present a show at every birthday party.

3. I’ve heard that The trip we took with dad is an idea you have since the launch of Silent River and you knew already this would be your debut in feature film. How did it all started?
Yes, indeed. I started working on The trip we took with dad way before Silent River even existed as an idea. I grew up with the story from The trip we took with dad, it was a story my father narrated dozens of time, especially at Christmas, when we all gathered around the table, after the dessert, listening to him. The decision my dad took when he was 18 and came back to Romania, it’s one that affected all of us in the family. And I think it’s also a decision he regretted, given the fact we moved to Germany immediately after the fall of Communism. I rediscovered his story during my second year of university, when I started thinking what are my possibilities to tell such a story as a director. I was studying documentary filmmaking and it was somehow clear to me I won’t be able to finance a feature fiction film without having a “business card” – this is how Silent River has born.

4. What kind of film director are you? Should the script be followed exactly, do you rehearse a lot with your actors or do you bet more on their personal touch?
Having a background in documentary filmmaking, authenticity is extremely important to me so it should be found in the film from its beginning to its end. It is also important to take the story to its most dramatic point, but without forgetting it has to be credible. It’s the same when I work with the actors: we do rehearse a lot, but not exactly on the script. I prefer writing scenes especially for rehearsals, scenes that follow the film’s subject and help actors understand their character’s background better but without having to be part of the story. For The trip we took with dad I took time to stage the love between Mihai (Mihai Margineanu) and the nurse (Ana Ularu) – they used to be lovers and I wanted to help them convey that through their acting, to the public.

5. For this feature you have filmed in Germany, Romania and Hungary. Are there any big differences in the way each country works on a film set?
We had a mixed up team and the beautiful part is, it stayed the same for three months: light & grip people were from Romania, the DOP is German, set design and sound were mostly from Hungary. We had a great team that grew so much in three months, and I would say there are more similarities between us than differences.

6. What was the most difficult moment during production?
I would say the uncertainty of whether we will film with the Soviet tanks or not. We couldn’t clarify the situation before the beginning of production and it was the last scene to be filmed in Romania, after Timisoara and Arad which were some tough but beautiful weeks. Overall, I would say it went well because we were very well organized.

7. How was the transition from short to feature film?
I expected it to be tougher. I never spent so many days on a film set since now. We had even six days in a row of filming, which mean you only had about ten hours to rest before you started your next week. It was so exciting, probably one of the most challenging times of my life but also on of the best. To work for seven years at this script and then turn it into a film could be such an amazing gift, especially when you have the right actors. On my last day in the editing suite, I couldn’t believe it, I was like “wow, I really did it!”. I can consider myself an adult from now on and I can say it was much better than I have thought.

8. I noticed that in both Silent River and The trip we took with dad, you retrace past events, or moments, especially from the communism era. What attracts you so much at this period in time?
First of all, and I’m taking here especially about the 80’s, it’s the time I grew up in Romania. Keep in mind that in 1990 I moved to Germany with my family and all the years that came after were spent far away from Romania, with just some occasionally visits. As a result, I think it would be unfair to tell stories about the present day Romania, which I don’t know. On the other hand, I think our past influences our present a lot and it is extremely important to understand what happened back then. If we do not understand what our parents went through, and why we got in the situation we’re in today, we won’t understand the future.

9. How much does it matter to you the critics point of view, as well as the public’s?
It depends on the project. The ideal situation would be to make both happy – with Silent River I succeeded and it was fascinating to see how well it did. There were festivals where it got both the Critics and the Public Award.
So far, The trip we took with dad has been well received by the public, at least in Germany, and it seems in Hungary too, where lots of newspapers have written about the film. I think The trip we took with dad is still searching for its audience, and wants to be closer to its public, to make itself loved and seen. It’s a film that wants you to laugh, to feel good, but also to get a little emotional and understand something about what happened during the communist era.

10. What do you wish for 2017?
To film my next feature film. Like for The trip we took to dad, I have some problems with finding the money to make it. Hopefully, I will film it this summer.

The trip we took with dad is a Filmallee production (Germany), in co-production with Strada Film (Romania), Mirage Film Studio (Hungary), Chimney Pot (Sweden), Film I Vast (Sweden), with the support of Bayerische Rundfunk(Germany), ZDF/Arte and Eurimages.

Three movie recommendations: 
Only three? Okay.
Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio de Sica
California Dreamin’, Cristian Nemescu
A Royal Affair, Nikolay Arcel

Favourite song:
Three again.
Credence Clearwater Revival – Have you ever seen the rain, a song I listened to like a maniac during the filming of “The trip we took with dad”
Sting – Shape of my heart
Johnny Lang – Lie to me, reminds me of my teens

Favorite film directors: Susanne Bier, Andrea Arnold, Ben Affleck
A book that changed your life: TC Boyle – America and The Road to Wellville
A city you dream to visit: I travel too much lately and it’s getting tiring but there is a place I dream about, Wild Woodstock Forest – Jivamukti Yoga Centre, NY, USA

The red carpet premiere of her debut will take place in Bucharest, at Elvia Popesco’s Cinema, on the 3rd of February.

Interview by Laura Mușat

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